~ Guitars I have known... and own ~

Bill Hillman Guitar No. 19
Roland G-202 Guitar Synth
No. 20815721A

Roland G-202 Guitar Synth
Roland GR-300 Guitar Synthesizer

Connecting Cable for the Roland Synth Guitars
This synth guitar, along with the companion GR-300 synth were added to my guitar armada in 2003.

Both units had languished, unsold and forgotten
- with original price stickers still displayed -
in a Ted Good Music (Brandon) storage room since the 1980s.
They looked lonely -- I brought them home with me.

The early Roland synth guitars have a distinguished history.
I feel fortunate to be the owner -- and player -- of three of these instruments.
Much of the research I've done on the series is featured in this series of  guitar pages I've created.


Roland G-202 Guitar Synthesizer Controller
Features and Specifications:
 Body: Ash
 Finishes available: Acrylic, red, white, blue, natural
 Neck: Maple One Piece
 Fingerboard: Maple
 Frets: 21
 Bridge: Adjustable
 Nut: Polycarbonate
 Tuning machines: Gotoh
 Pickups: Two Roland PU-120H humbuckers
 Scale:25 1/2"
 Truss Rod: Single, Adjustable
 Neck Width: 1 5/8"
 Body Width: 13"
 Body Depth: 1 3/4"
 Overall Length: 39 1/2"
 Weight: 7 lbs 3 oz
The Roland G-202 guitar is the least known of all the vintage Roland guitar synthesizer controllers. The unusual G-202 is a bit of a Fender/Gibson hybrid. While the body shape and neck are the same as the Fender-inspired G-505, the G-202 has a fixed bridge with humbucker pickups. The knobs are the same ones as used on the G-303/G-808 guitars, but the Roland PU-120H pickups and TP-130 bridge appear only on the G-202. For people who like the Fender design, but do not want the issues involved with a floating, tremolo bridge, the G-202 is their "go to" vintage Roland guitar synthesizer controller.
The Unique G-202 Electronics Card 
Most notably, the G-202 guitar has its own electronic card which is distinctly different from the cards used in the G-303/G-505/G-808. The most obvious difference is that the G-202 card has the components (resistors, capacitors, opamps, etc.) installed on the same side of the board as the control pots. In the G-303/505/808 cards, the control pots are installed on one side, and the components on the opposite side. 

The G-202 has 1S188 diodes, and uses them not as noise gates, but to provide the waveform clipping to produce the fuzz sound. The G-202 does not have the additional opamp stage or any additional capacitors to smooth out the fuzz tone. As a result the G-202 is not as dense or smooth as the G-303/505/808. e same size, a G-505 card can be installed in a G-202 guitar without any changes. 

Notes on the G-202 and GR-300 from Manuals and Reviews

In the early '80s, before the MIDI specification was adopted, Roland offered a series of guitars with built-in hex pickups, for use with their GR-300 analog synthesizer, which applied analog synthesizer-style sound shaping to sounds from the hex-fuzz generator built into the guitar. The GR-300 polyphonic guitar synthesizer has an outstanding expressing ability, being able to reproduce the subtleness of the guitar sound which cannot be obtained by a keyboard synthesizer. It is especially suitable for live performance. The guitars designed as controllers for the GR-300 were the G-202, G-303, G-505, and G-808-- included built-in controls for several synthesizer functions, and used an impressive 24-conductor cable with massive connectors to interface with the synthesizer or hex fuzz unit.

G-202 Guitar Synth Controller (1980 to 1984)
This guitar is a solid-body, offset double cutaway body "Stratocaster-style" with bolt-on solid maple neck, dual neck/bridge humbucking pickups, built-in hex pickup, onboard synth controller electronics, controls: guitar volume, tone, synthesizer VCF cutoff, guitar/synth mix, VCF resonance (feedback) and LFO depth (synth vibrato). Fully adjustable bridge. The model was available in bright enamel finishes.

All of the GR System products use the same 24-pin. C-24D connector. The C-24D uses locking mechanisms at both ends to prevent the cord from detaching from the Controller and Unit.

GR-300 Guitar Synthesizer
The blue GR300 has six VCOs (one per string) that are controlled by the string pitches as well as hexa-fuzz plus an LFO, tuning presets and some control over the attack of each note. The decay of each note is controlled by the way you play the guitar and this makes the system far more versatile than it first appears. As one of the sound sources on this unit are now true VCOs then a few new techniques become available. First it is now possible to apply vibrato to open strings, secondly each string can now produce two notes (one from the divided pickup and one from a VCO). The pitch of the VCO's can be offset by two preset controls that can be selected by footswitches. Envelope attack can be slowed down and the strings that will have a synthesized tone on them can be individually selected. There is a compression on / off switch but unfortunately the infinite sustain of the GR500 was dropped. Many of these functions can be selected by footswitches and the state of these are indicated by LEDs that flash if the function is off or steady if the function is on.

The guitar controllers for the GR300 were the same range that were offered for use with the GR100. The controls on the guitars now allowed control of VCF frequency and resonance, guitar / synth balance, oscillator / hexa-fuzz selection and LFO on / off through the use of two concealed touch plates. All this was achieved on guitars that looked very conventional, however examination of the back of the guitar shows that there is a large amount of electronics inside it.

The improved tracking of the GR-300 combined with the GK1 and BK1 pickups offered clean and fast tracking which allowed guitarists much more versatility in their playing. The system is still considered one of the greatest guitar synths ever manufactured despite the limitations of the synthesizer engine due to its minimal filter and envelope settings. Both Andy Summers and Robert Fripp have praised the G303 guitar as a perfect marriage of the guitar with synthesizers.

One of the things that made the GR300 and GR33b guitar and bass units so playable and attractive to guitarists was the series of controllers Roland offered. Controllers include a number of models that were fashioned after popular guitars by major companies. All the Roland guitars were made at the Fuji Gen Gakki factory, under contract to Roland. The Fuju Gen Gakki factory also built guitars for Ibanez, and made the Fender Made-In-Japan guitars as well! 

After the perfect tracking of the GR300/GR33b series Roland went on to create new floor units that were a huge leap forward in their synthesis technology. Unfortunately they also abandoned the tracking system that made the 300/33b such a useful and playable instrument. These silver monsters are great synths but the tracking systems inside them is mediocre compared to the previous generation.

The G33 and G88 bass controllers had exaggerated double cutaway bodies. An actual Fender P-bass type body was also available for a while. Roland GR-808

With the advent of MIDI, Roland introduced two new systems. The G-707 guitar, an angular instrument with a stablizer bar joining headstock and body, was offered with the GR-700 analog synthesizer. The GR-700, a huge pedalboard, included enough memory for 64 different patches-- and a MIDI Out jack. However, the MIDI signal was confined to MIDI Channel 1 only, and no pitch-bend data was transmitted-- two very severe limitations upon potential expressiveness. The G-707 also lacked the hex-fuzz generator featured in the earlier G-*0*-series guitars.

Three Simple GR-300 Mods
By Craig Anderton ~ Guitar Player Magazine ~ January 1984

For an encore to my two columns on guitar synthesis (July and August 1982 issues), here are three simple modifications that let you get more out of the Roland GR-300 guitar synthesizer system. You wonít have to drill any holes in either the GR-300 electronics or G-series guitar, or even remove any circuit boards. The only cautions are: Solder with a fine-tip, low-wattage soldering iron (no more than about 40 watts), use rosin-core solder, unplug the GR-300 before working on it, and finally, donít forget that doing these mods will void your warranty. Now, on to the three mods.

 Improving hex fuzz high-frequency response
 The hex fuzz section of a Roland G-series guitar (which is built into the guitar) mixes the fuzzed signal from each string into a single output. Note, though, that this hex fuzz mixer starts rolling off high frequencies around 2k Hz. To eliminate this roll-off, remove the metal plate on the back of the G-series guitarís body (the one on the other side from the controls and switches). Next, orient the guitarís circuit board so that the lettering is right side up, and look for the capacitor labeled C72 (470 pF). On my guitar, this cap is located a little to the right of center of the board, in the upper middle section. Once youíve found the cap, snip one of its leads with a diagonal cutter - you will be rewarded by a brighter fuzz sound with more presence.

Separate hex fuzz out
 This mod (which is particularly effective for studio work) taps off the hex fuzz output and routes this signal to its own output jack (the original hex fuzz signal path remains undisturbed). Thus, you can send the hex fuzz signal, VCO signal, and straight guitar all into separate channels and process them individually. The hex fuzz would come from the jack weíre about to add, the VCO output from the mix/synth jack (with the guitarís balance control set for all synth and the dist/VCO switch set for VCO only), and the straight guitar sound from the guitar jack. With a little processing, you will get some absolutely incredible stereo effects.

 To install the hex fuzz output, take off the bottom plate (12 screws). Orient the unit top-down, so that you are facing the rear panel. This jack connects to two ribbon connectors, which plug into matching sockets (B4 and B5) soldered to the circuit board. Fig. 1 shows a detail of the left side of B5. Note the designation "6 SG" just above the left side of the connector, "3 SG" to the right of that, and a solder connection to the right of "3 SG." A jumper wire goes from this solder connection to another solder connection directly above it. Both of these carry the isolated hex fuzz signal.

 Decision time: It you donít want to drill any holes in the GR-300, you will have to give up one of the jack functions on the back panel so that this jack can carry the hex fuzz out. I recommend giving up either the string select or sweep on/off jack. Both of these have three terminals; the ground terminal busses to the other jacks via bare wire, one terminal is unsoldered, and the remaining "hot" terminal (the one closest to the circuit board) has a colored wire going to it. Disconnect this soldered wire and tape up the end, so it wonít short to anything. Connect the "-" end of a 10 micro farad electrolytic capacitor and one end of a 100K resistor to the hot terminal. Connect the other end of the resistor to the ground terminal, and the remaining end of the capacitor to a wire whose free end solders to either of the jumper solder pads shown in Fig. 1. You now have an individual hex fuzz output.

Vibrato pedal
 I donít like the GR-300ís vibrato touch plates, so I disabled them and added a foot pedal option where pushing down on the pedal increases the vibrato depth. The pedal must be a control voltage pedal,as described in my article in the February 1982 issue of Keyboard magazine (page 24). Otherwise, use a standard volume pedal, connect a 9V battery connector to a 1/4" phone plug (red wire to hot, black wire to ground), and insert the plug into the pedalís instrument input. As you push down, the pedal output will go from 0 to 9 volts.

 As with the last mod, you will have to give up another jackís function; I recommend the VCF pedal jackís hot terminal (the closest to the circuit board), and resolder this wire to the ground terminal. Now, referring to Fig. 2 (which details the right side of B4), use an X-acto knife to break the circuit board trace where indicated. Next, follow along the right-hand side of the circuit board. As you move towards the foot switches, you will see the legend for resistor R179 about two-thirds of the way up the board and about an inch from the side. Move towards the foot switches from this point, and youíll find a jumper wire (see Fig. 3). Solder a wire to the right of this jumper, and connect the other of this wire to the hot terminal of the VCF pedal jack.

 Check your wiring over carefully, make sure you didnít short out any adjacent traces (important!), and reassemble the unit. Plug a control voltage pedal output into the VCF pedalís input to verify that the pedal vibrato function works, and also check that thereís a signal present at the new hex fuzz output jack. If all is well, play away!

 These mods may be simple, but theyíve really perked up the sound of my axe. I hope you like them; give them a try and let me know what you think.

Excerpt Reference:
Roland launched the GR300 with the strap-line, 'Roland invented the first true guitar synthesizer. Now, we've made it obsolete'. This wasn't strictly true... the previous GR500 and GS500 offered many features that the GR300 lacked, but in one way, it was correct. While the GS500's tracking had been at best 'iffy', the dedicated G303 (bolted-on neck) and G808 (through neck) controllers were far better, and they still offer perhaps the best tracking of all dedicated guitar synthesizers. The same accolade is also true of the bass guitar version, the GR33B, which had a slightly different voice structure and a choice of two controllers, the G33 and G88.

The GR300 allowed you to decide which strings fed signals to the synth. Kakehashi viewed this as a natural stage in the evolution of the guitar, from its acoustic beginnings, through the rapid development of the electric guitar in the 1930s, '40s, '50s and '60s, to the next level, wherein each string can be treated as a separate instrument. Indeed, the GR300 featured a unique hexaphonic distortion that treated each string independently, which is very different from distorting the combined sound produced by all the strings. Sure, there was only a single filter in the GR300, and virtually no enveloping of the sounds, but the synth had an instantly recognisable character that elevated it to the status of an instrument in its own right.

The following year, Roland released two Fender-style controllers for the GR300, the G202 (with dual humbuckers) and the G505 (the most common GR300 controller, with three single-coil pickups and a tremolo arm). This was a good move because, like the GR500, the GR300 could only be controlled by Roland guitars with their dedicated multicore cables. However, unlike the GR500, you could also plug a quarter-inch jack into any of the '300' series guitars and basses, and play it as a conventional instrument.

Surprisingly, Roland's reputation and enviable success did not guarantee financial stability. The Yen had been increasing in value from ¥310 to the US Dollar when Roland were established in 1972, to a temporary low of about ¥180 to the dollar in 1978/79. Although it recovered briefly in 1980, it was soon to rise in value again. Unfortunately, the strength of the Yen had a near-catastrophic effect on Roland, because their European distributor, Brodr Jorgensen, had been unable to cope with the increased cost of importing Japanese goods and, in 1980, they unexpectedly declared themselves bankrupt. This meant that Roland ó who had themselves only just become cash-positive ó suddenly found themselves without a European distributor, with one third of their worldwide business evaporating, and their European stock ó millions of pounds of product ó in the hands of Brodr Jorgensen's liquidators. Furthermore, $1,500,000 of unpaid product was in transit for Europe, and all this would be lost if Kakehashi could not move quickly. For the first time since establishing the company, he faced a crisis. And it was a huge one.

Kakehashi immediately shut down all production of Roland products, and blocked delivery of the goods in transit. This didn't improve matters, but it stopped the situation from getting any worse. He then approached three banks for the credit necessary to continue trading, only one of which was prepared to help. Nevertheless, with a two-million dollar credit line from Daiwa Bank, the company was able to continue.

In many ways, this couldn't have happened at a worse time, because during the course of 1980, Roland had been completing their gradual migration from Osaka to Hamamatsu, coping with all the problems and disruption that this must have entailed. Kakehashi himself spent the autumn and winter of 1980 criss-crossing Europe in an attempt to save his distribution network. By the time the new year arrived, Roland were at a crossroads.

An unforgettable guitar tower sculpture we passed on our way to visit
the Jimi Hendrix Tribute and History of Guitar Museum at
The Experience Music Project - Seattle, Washington

Wikipedia: Guitar Synthsizers
Midi Guitar Roster
Vintage Roland Synthesizer Resource
Roland History in Sound On Sound
YouTube Demo

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